By now, I’m assuming you’ve seen the photos.
Last week, artist, curator and creator of the all-female art collective The Arduous, Petra Collins, recently released her “Period Power” T-shirt collaboration with American Apparel. The shirt features a large line drawing of a menstruating vagina, pubic hair fully intact, in the midst of masturbation. Collins has hit on essentially three of the biggest social taboos about female sexuality with this most classic and elegant white tee.
Unsurprisingly, the shirt has created a storm of media controversy and reactions from the public on the Internet. They range from cheers of praise to outright disgust. The natural female body, displaying its capability for sexual agency, has proved for an umpteenth time to be too shocking for most of these sources.
I’m drawn to a particular comment Collins made in an interview with Vice after the release:
“Menstruation—and also pubic hair—really freaks people out. There’s pubic hair in the drawing, which I guess is super shocking to people, even though I cannot get over that. I feel like I’m so sheltered in a way. I always forget that people are so close-minded.”
Sometimes I agree with Collins. I, too, forget the shocking nature of these things, the true disgust they can cause amongst other girls. Having attended an all-girls high school, talking about your period became one of the most banal conversations we could have. Rarely a day went by where someone didn’t ask me for a tampon or we didn’t talk about how birth control could make you feel really, really weird. Shaving was the least of our concerns.
Now, I’m attending a very liberal and open-minded college closely situated to an equally liberal and open-minded college, writing for the readers of that college’s feminist-minded publication.
For me to wear this shirt around campus is a very different statement then wearing it in my rather less liberal hometown. I don’t come from a conservative place, and those views seem so out of touch with my reality that I am surprised by the real vehemence displayed in the reactions to this image. Because of the way I’ve been raised and where my life has taken me, I’ve been very privileged in the development of my female sexuality; a drawing like this, while a bold image, does not seem so outlandish that I couldn’t imagine myself wearing it. (Actually, I just bought one of the shirts, and can’t wait to wear it to a party. Look out, Brown.)
What I hope comes out of this shirt – and the profusion of girls wearing it – is this very conversation. I hope it inspires girls to realize some fundamental social inequalities that they face. Each one of us has a different experience and faces unique challenges; often, these are struggles with our bodies and image, and how we may or may not fit norms depending on or ethnicity or weight. The fact that the smooth, hairless prepubescent state is normalized as what we should look is more frightening to me than anyone’s level of pubic hair. What also frightens me is what else can be normalized and approved for display by the media: images of Rihanna after being assaulted, reporters asking what girls did ‘wrong’ when they have been victims of rape, the shaming of celebrities post-pregnancy for being fat and not springing back into the body they ‘should’ have.
I can be educated, talk about my period whether people like it or not, and make decisions about my own sexuality. This isn’t true for all girls in America, and is a discussion most certainly oppressed in many places worldwide. I hope girls who choose to wear this shirt understand the ability they have in doing so, and do what they can to support others who desperately seek similar freedoms elsewhere. And for the many who choose not to wear the shirt, I hope it is not because you are disgusted by the female body, but because, well, you don’t want to. I am in full support of your decision, because choice is one of the best freedoms we can have as 21st-century women.
Honestly, though….I’m really looking forward to all your “Period Power” selfies.
By Lauren Allegrezza, Blog Editor